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UAB Installs Most Powerful Cyclotron at Any US Academic Medical Center

Written by Beena Thannickal

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has installed a one-of-a-kind cyclotron, a particle accelerator that makes protons collide with a target on the way to making medical imaging agents for clinical and research applications.

“Having this unique cyclotron on campus will dramatically enhance the university’s research programs in cancer, cardiology, immunology and the neurosciences, as well as allow great strides in patient care,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “This is an exciting day for UAB, our physicians and researchers, and our patients that will benefit from this incredible tool.”

The cyclotron weighs more than 61,000 pounds, as much as 10 large SUVs. UAB’s TR24 model, an exclusive hybrid of other models, will enable researchers to make a variety of agents, in quantities large enough to advance several research efforts.

Specifically selected by a team of UAB experts, the TR24 cyclotron took nearly a year-and-a-half to build, and it was crafted explicitly to be installed into the basement of the newly renovated UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“The cyclotron is impressive not only in its size, but its advanced cancer diagnosis and treatment capabilities,” said Cheri Canon, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Radiology. “This powerful TR24 cyclotron enables UAB to produce numerous unique agents that may not be commercially available.”

UAB’s TR24 cyclotron moves protons, one kind of charged particle comprising atoms, at about 16 percent the speed of light, accelerating the protons outwards from the center of the machine along an expanding spiral path to a target that is transformed into the desired radioactive element. The resultant material is then transported from the cyclotron to a special box where chemical reactions convert it into a radiopharmaceutical that can be used as a diagnostic tool or for treatment of patients.

“The most important aspect of this cyclotron is what it means to our patients now and in the future,” Canon said. “With this powerful instrument, we are able to continually investigate better means of offering the best premium care to our patients.”

Installing the cyclotron is a huge engineering feat and key milestone for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We have been readying our new state-of-the-art research facility for its grand opening this summer,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the Cancer Center. “The cyclotron adds significantly to our translational research capability and will make us a clear leader in advanced imaging for cancer among NCI-designated cancer centers in the United States. It puts us on the map in terms of recruiting top talent, contending for and receiving sizeable grants, and exploring research opportunities that we otherwise couldn’t. We certainly will be in a better position in the fight against cancer.”

Upon completing the installation, and required state and federal approvals, the cyclotron is planned to be operational in August.


Click on the images below for a look inside UAB’s Cyclotron, which makes radioactive molecular imaging agents for nuclear medicine using a type of particle accelerator that moves protons, a one kind of charged particle, along a spiral path to strike a material to produce radioisotopes.

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